Childcare in Seattle: Hosting an Au Pair

If you google “childcare costs in Seattle,” you will be inundated with articles about how Seattle has some of the least affordable childcare in the country. Thus, when my husband and I decided that I would go back to teaching this fall, I was worried about finding affordable quality childcare for our one-year-old twins. Due to my concerns, I spent hours breaking down the pros and cons of the various childcare options available in our area, as well as the costs of each. Cost was important for us, because as a teacher, it would be easy to end up paying more for childcare than I make.

Childcare Options: Nanny, Daycare Center, In Home Daycare

As a former nanny, I was well aware of what a nanny would cost. A nanny for two children in Renton would be $15-18/hour on the low end. This doesn’t include the taxes we would have to pay as an employer. We would be looking at $28,000-33,500 before taxes for the 43 weeks of the school year. 43 weeks because it is fairly standard in the competitive Seattle nanny market to offer guaranteed hours for the nanny – paying for weeks when I have off – as many nannies cannot afford to take unpaid vacations when their employers are on vacation and therefore have to scramble to find fill in jobs. At a cost of 80-100% of my take home salary, a nanny did not seem like the option for us. A nanny share (2 families sharing a nanny at one or both houses) would be about 2/3 the cost, but nanny shares usually include little to no household chores. In addition, with three or more kids within a few months of age, it is a lot harder for the nanny to get the children out of the house. Daycare centers would have more oversight and some socialization but lack some of the personal attention of a nanny. For example, daycare centers typically do not follow a custom nap schedule, they would not allow the girls’ to stay in their normal environment, and there would not be any child related chores being done at our house. A daycare center would cost us about $28,000 a year or about 80% of my net income. Home daycares (or family daycares) are usually a good middle option. These are exactly what they sound like – daycares that people run out of their homes (some licensed and some unlicensed) and usually they take less children than a daycare center. Some home daycares will work with the babies’ schedules and are usually cheaper than a daycare center; however, home daycares usually do not have as much oversight as daycare centers.

The Best Childcare Option for Us: Au Pair

A final option that we considered was an au pair. An au pair would cost $19,750 plus additional expenses including room and board, phone, car insurance, and driver’s license fees. Even though each au pair agency structures their fees differently, in reality the total cost is pretty much the same across the board. We decided to go with Cultural Care Au Pair, as we had heard positive reviews from families in Seattle. An au pair would provide many of the benefits of a nanny (care provided in our home, the girls’ schedule would be followed, some child related chores would be done, etc.). My husband and I had discussed au pairs before we even had children. We realized the importance of exposing children to other languages and cultures at an early age, which really is one of the greatest benefits of an au pair. However, it is important to note that the Department of State has very specific requirements about how many hours an au pair can work. Au pairs are allowed to work up to 45 hours per week and no more than 10 hours per day. Au pairs must also receive one and a half days off per week and one weekend off per month. They also must receive two weeks of paid vacation.

Costs and Fees for Cultural Care Au Pair:

$75 application fee (often there is a code to waive this)
$300 processing fee (once you match with an au pair)
$300 domestic transportation fee (NYC to SEA varies from $100-$300 depending on your location)
$8595 program fee
$195.75 weekly stipend (paid directly to au pair for 51 weeks)
up to $500 in educational costs (The Department of State requires au pairs to take 6 credit hours (not online) at an accredited secondary institution)

Total cost: $19,753.25 (we received $500 off due to a corporate discount through my husband’s company so make sure to check if your employer has a similar discount)

Other costs:

  • $89 WA driver’s license + $65-80 for driving tests (OR the au pair could pay for her own international driver’s license if your insurance doesn’t require her to have a U.S. state license)
  • $30 phone activation fee (SIM card is free with activation) for our au pair’s iPhone + $20/month on our current plan which has unlimited text and talk in the U.S. (Other carriers have pay as you go for an average of $30-$50/month depending on the amount of texts, calls, and data)
  • $30/month car insurance increase (Some companies charge a fee for having an international license instead of a US license)
  • ??? increase in groceries and utilities

As we spent the summer in Brazil for my husband’s job, before we filled out our application and profile, we talked to a Seattle area local care consultant (LCC) to make sure we would be able to complete this process while living abroad. We were a bit worried as the Department of State requires a home visit (to make sure the au pair’s room is private and contains a bed, dresser, and closet) and an in person interview. The LCC assured us that it would be fine to do our interview online via Skype, but based on the timing we only had one and a half weeks to match with an au pair if we wanted her to arrive to our home on August 18th. We filled out the application questions and completed the lengthy process of creating an in-depth profile. We wanted to be honest so that a potential au pair would know if she would be a good match for our family. After connecting with the consultant for the Renton/Newcastle area, she told us that we actually could not complete the home tour and interview while abroad. However, she followed up with the account services department who said they could make an exception, so we completed our hour-long family interview through Skype and my husband’s parents, who are staying at our house, agreed to give the home tour.

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The Matching Process

We began to look for an au pair, knowing that we wanted a female Brazilian au pair who had experience with 0-2 year olds. However, initially we did not completely understand the process, so the beginning of our search was a bit frustrating. As we were not in the U.S., we did not get a lot of the support phone calls with the au pair agency to answer questions and get help from a matching specialist. After a period of trial and error, we finally figured out the process. We filtered for female Brazilian applicants who were 20+ years old (au pairs can be 18-26), who had childcare experience with 0-2 year olds, had at least 2 years driving experience, were not vegetarian, and had similar interests to us (were active and enjoyed the outdoors). This resulted in around 20 au pairs to manually screen. The process was quite time consuming as it was all host family led (you must screen candidate profiles, then “hold the au pair” so you can get her contact info, then ask her to review your profile and set up an interview if she feels you are a match). We had first interviews with five au pairs, second interviews with three au pairs, and a third interview with one au pair. During this period, we felt like we were constantly emailing questions, Skyping/FaceTiming interviews, and texting through WhatsApp, which is a popular messaging app in Brazil as it is cheaper to use data than texts. However, this was necessary in order to get to know the au pairs as well as possible during our short timeline. If we had had more time, we probably would have interviewed some of the au pairs a few more times and added some additional au pairs to our interview list. The most important things for us when we were interviewing au pairs were: ability to keep the girls safe and happy, driving skills (as we live in a suburb this is important for the au pair to get to her classes, meet up with friends, explore our area, and take the girls to play dates and activities), willingness to schedule activities around the girls’ nap schedule, English language skills, and our ability to connect with her (since she will be living with us and effectively become a part of our family).

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We matched with a young lady – Maria – who is 22 years old, has a degree in gastronomy, is from Santa Catarina, speaks English well enough that we can communicate, has similar interests to us, and we feel will be a great au pair. Our LCC was on vacation, so we informed someone else at Cultural Care Au Pair of the match on the deadline day for our preferred arrival date.

At this point our frustration hit a high point. After doing everything to ensure that we would be able to welcome our au pair on August 18th, we were told that again we had been misinformed! We were informed that a Skype interview was not an acceptable option. Thus, we would have to complete the interview and home tour after our arrival in the U.S. on August 11th, and we wouldn’t be able to host an au pair until September 1st. We had now been told three different things concerning the interview and if we would be able to host our au pair starting on the 18th by three different people. After speaking with one of the directors at Cultural Care Au Pair, we were able to get it worked out, and they agreed to let us complete our home tour and interview (again) on August 12th. Cultural Care Au Pair approved our au pair match, and we paid the processing fee. After that payment, we could not believe how fast the process moved. Our au pair’s flight to the U.S. was booked the next day and a flight to Seattle the day after that. Four days after we paid our fee, Maria was able to schedule her visa appointment.

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Why Cultural Care?

Obviously, we are in a unique situation, as we were trying to find childcare while abroad and on a short timeline. This posed some challenges, but we were also able to meet our au pair when she and her mom came to São Paulo for their visa appointments. When I asked Maria why she decided to use Cultural Care Au Pair even though it was one of the most expensive agencies for au pairs, she said it is because they have some of the most support for au pairs and a large number of families. (Also, Cultural Care Au Pair recruits heavily in Brazil. Of the 513 au pairs who were looking for families, 99 were from Brazil, 99 were from Columbia, and 94 were from Thailand. I have also heard that Cultural Care Au Pair is unique in that they set up actual offices in each country they recruit from.) I imagine we might have had a much better experience and more support if we had done the matching process while in the U.S., and if we decide to host another au pair after Maria, I will be interested to compare our experiences. Other families who have used Cultural Care Au Pair along with other agencies have shared similar sentiments to Maria from the family side – Cultural Care Au Pair by far provides the most support, especially during the matching process or when there is a need to rematch.